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Monday, 07 March 2022 09:34

Ukraine’s Surrogacy Industry Has Put Women in Impossible Positions

When your job is carrying a baby for someone else, you can’t leave it behind.

Nothing crystallizes the “her body, my baby” conundrum of surrogacy quite like a war. Should a surrogate be tucked away somewhere safe, to protect the child she’s growing for someone else? Or should she be with her own family, or in her hometown, or even out on the streets defending her nation?

That is a live question in Ukraine right now.

Ukraine is an international surrogacy hub, one of only a handful of countries in the world that allows foreigners to enter into surrogacy arrangements. That means people from the United States or China or Germany or Australia can go there and hire a local woman to gestate their child. There are conditions—the parents have to be straight and married and have a medical reason for needing a surrogate—but surrogates are plentiful, paying them is legal, and establishing legal parenthood for the intended parents is uncomplicated.

How many babies are born in Ukraine through surrogacy is not known—perhaps 2,500 a year. BioTexCom, one large fertility clinic based in Kyiv, confirmed to me that it is expecting some 200 surrogate babies to be born in the next three months.

There can be tensions in these relationships. The woman carrying the baby deserves bodily autonomy, the parents deserve security for their child, and occasionally the two are at odds, even under the best conditions. Parents may want a surrogate to abstain from certain foods, such as coffee, or certain activities, such as kickboxing. I’ve seen contracts with North American surrogates saying no to hair dye, perfume, dentistry, and even sex. Other times parents try to restrict a woman’s movements: no moving out of state, for instance, or no traveling more than 100 miles from home.

Ukrainian surrogates face similar restrictions. Even before war threatened, many of them were contractually obliged to move closer to their clinic and birthing hospital a few months in advance of their due date. Surrogates I spoke with by Zoom two and a half weeks ago, all working with the New Jersey–based surrogacy agency Delivering Dreams, seemed fine with that requirement. They each had their own apartment, and some brought their families with them.

At the time, the women I spoke with were not worried about what they saw as an unlikely war. One surrogate called the idea “total nonsense.” But the intended parents whose babies they were carrying, who live in the U.S. and Canada, were nervous. They were hearing that Ukraine might be invaded, and they wanted the surrogates—and the babies in their wombs—to be safe.

Back in late January, Susan Kersch-Kibler, Delivering Dreams’ founder, held a Zoom meeting with parents to talk about contingency plans. I listened in, intrigued. Kersch-Kibler herself did not expect anything more serious than cyberattacks from Russia, she said at the time, but nonetheless she was preparing for the worst. She told clients who were scheduled to bring home their babies from Ukraine in the coming weeks to pack lots of cash, in case banks went down, and warm clothes, in case electricity cut out.

She also advised them to buy very flexible airline tickets. Exactly where their babies might end up being born wasn’t clear, she told them. She would move surrogates west to Lviv if there were significant military actions in eastern Ukraine. In the event of a full-scale military invasion, though, she was prepared to move them out of the country altogether. The women’s passports were in order, she told the parents.

When, in mid-February, government advisories took on a more urgent tone, exhorting foreign nationals to “avoid all travel to Ukraine” and “leave while commercial means are available,” and when even embassies started to decamp from the capital, Kersch-Kibler decided to start moving her surrogates west to Lviv.

“We cannot have the surrogate in any danger,” Kersch-Kibler told me at the time. “And whether they consider it danger or not, if the parents consider it danger, they’re going to be stressed out of their minds. And I don’t want that to spill over to the surrogate.”

I could sense that familiar tension: the parents’ need to feel secure versus the surrogate’s need to make decisions about her own life.

The women I communicated with were not happy to go. Mostly, they thought it was unnecessary. They did not want to uproot their families yet again, and most decided not to—they went alone. But a few days after the move, two of the women told me via WhatsApp that they missed their kids. “I hope we go back to Kyiv as soon as possible,” one said.

We all know what happened next.

In the days following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, fertility clinics in Kyiv, now under serious assault, shut down. People took shelter or fled.

BioTexCom had told me earlier that it had secured a bomb shelter nearby to protect parents, surrogates, and newborns. A YouTube video it shared showed that the shelter was kitted out with beds, cribs, sleeping bags—and gas masks. There was a stockpile of food and medical supplies, and the facility had running water, washrooms, and cooking facilities. I emailed to see if anyone had actually used it during the first or second night of fighting in Kyiv, but I did not hear back.

Meanwhile Kersch-Kibler was frantically trying to move more surrogates to safety. The heavily pregnant women were already in Lviv, but now she began urging the newly pregnant, and even some women who’d recently started taking hormones to prepare their uterine linings for embryo transfers, to travel west as well.

But some of the surrogates did not want to move—or in some cases, to remain in safe locations but separated from family. They wanted to make their own decisions, about where and how they might survive the next days and months.

Many people have jobs that force them to be separated from their families—military personnel, diplomats, foreign correspondents, international nannies, home care workers. And in Ukraine, being a surrogate is not only a job; it is often a well-paid job. But most jobs you can quit, or at least put on hold. This one you can’t, really. This one might keep you from your family or from acting on your sense of duty to your country. It might physically impede your ability to get to safety. It might require you to seek medical attention even as medics are overrun with the injured and dying.

Some people in wartime can turn all of their attention to family and the war effort, but surrogates cannot. Even if they defy pleas to go to places of safety, they carry their work with them, inside their body.

Should a surrogate in Ukraine stay safe for the baby? Or do what’s right for her own family? Should she seek refuge in a third country, such as Poland or Moldova or Hungary, where parentage laws consign the intended parents to legal complications, or should she press on to a country such as the Czech Republic, where laws for parents are better?

The reality is that the interests of the surrogate and the interests of the parents don't always align. War just makes it that much more stark.

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Testimonials

We have been very satisfied, I have been comfortable at the clinic and with my doctor. I was heard. I could ask any questions. I like you have hu-mor, despite the circumstances. Great clinic. Your service has been very good. You have been a huge support and very spacious. You have been available 24 hours a day. You have the answer to all the questions we have been asked. You have accommodated our nervousness, you have rejoiced with us, you have been there throughout. I could not have wished ...
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A and S
The communication with surrogate is easy and better than what we expected. The updates are provided as scheduled with occasional surprises
S
The support was great. It was easy on us that the coordination was done by the delivering dreams team while being completely transparent with us on the progress. The communication with the delivering dreams team was always fast, responsive, and easy.
E and K
Thank you kate. You have been great today and all the other days ❤ you are a great team. We are very satisfied and happy for your help.
Sonny
We were confident before in our choice, but this experience has confirmed beyond any doubt that we choose the best agency.
Doyles
I loved working with Susan and her team and highly recommend them to anyone considering her services. She's is great at every aspect of a process and knows how to handle delicate matters.
Diana Lyakhovetska
Susan truly understands the needs of parents using surrogacy, and offers comprehensive emotional support to parents as they experience the journey!
Christine Hughes Pontier
The team at Delivering Dreams is amazing! Their attention to detail and ability to put your mind at ease while growing your family is like none other. They handled everything for us, and I never once doubted they would help us accomplish our dreams.
Margaret Jones
I’ve known Susan for several years now, and I’ve always been impressed by her attention to her clients’ needs. I’ve known her to work ardently and diligently to solve whatever challenges, no matter how unique, that prevent her clients from completing their families. She is a problem-solver, and she earnestly believes in providing the best options and in making surrogacy opportunities realities: this is not merely a business for Susan. She will help customize the process for your needs and to ...
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Mary Woods
Susan has a keen sense of business and goes to the max to solve her clients’ problems. She is super knowledgeable on business, laws and how things work in surrogacy in general, and specifically on Ukrainian surrogacy. She is an advocate for transparency in a market that’s often opaque and full of hidden risks. I really enjoyed working with Susan. She really pays attention to detail and was always looking out for my best interest above all. Highly recommend!
Laurie Tham
Delivering Dreams goes above and beyond what other surrogacy agencies offer. After speaking with Susan, I see how they anticipate every part of the process, down to details that I had never even considered. I didn’t know what I didn’t know! Surrogacy can be really complicated and confusing. What an amazing sense of relief to have a company so dedicated to managing the WHOLE process and taking away as much of the stress as possible.
Kate Varness
I have gotten to know Susan through a group where we are members. I have found her to be a genuine and caring person. Her consideration for others and love of her work with Ukrainian surrogates and parents-to-be are evident in all her decision making. She is passionate about being a force for the greater good and helping where she can. I have been amazed at the way she is able to smoothly navigate the complicated maze of requirements in the surrogacy process. I am happy to give her my highest...
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Rose Anne Barbour Huck
Susan Kibler is kind.  She clearly loves those she works with and loves what she does.  Susan listens deeply and compassionately and can make you laugh all in the space of one conversation.  She is wonderful!  If you are feeling worried, she'll hear you.  If you have questions, she will find answers for you. If you need help, she does her very best to support you.  I feel so fortunate to have found her and imagine you will too.
Frances Russell
Susan has the ability to really connect on a personal level quickly.  I have found her easy to talk to and have been so grateful for her guidance.  She is one of those people who offers so much to her clients.  She sees the big picture and has a heart for the most intimate concerns.  She is highly skilled and able to manage what can certainly be challenging and uncomfortable experiences, making them feel easier.  She will take charge at the perfect times and guide you when you really need her...
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Susan Seare
The international surrogacy world is complicated. Susan Kibler knows its ins-and-outs. She knows the people and outfits you can trust and the ones to avoid. She insists on the best for her clients and handles the details so they don't have to worry about them. If you want to take the international surrogacy journey, you can trust Delivering Dreams International Surrogacy Agency to guide you on that path.
Nancy Linnerooth
My friend and I had a positive experience working with Susan. Susan is always super responsive and caring. She is very professional, helpful and reliable. My friend has soo much troubles trying having a baby for many years. My friend and her husband were about to give up their dream of having a baby. Susan Kersch Kibler found the way to help. She has unlimited energy, attentive to detail and super efficient. Great to work with!
Polina Clend
Susan is passionate about helping people become families. She is a trustworthy confidant to have on your side.
Kristen Ancker
Our experience with Delivering Dreams has been overwhelmingly positive. The team seems to be genuinely dedicated to helping us to realize our dream of having a child. The constant communication leading up to the trip and the numerous touch points made us feel comforted in what has been a very challenging and uncomfortable situation. We always had streamlined communication through the group chat and was frequently checked on during our stay.
Marilyn

Under Ukrainian law, surrogacy is a legal affordable option for traditionally married couples to have children using their own embryos, or with either an egg or sperm donor. There must be a medical reason you can’t carry a child. You are also able to participate if you have had 4 unsuccessful IVF attempts.

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Under Ukrainian law, surrogacy is a legal affordable option for traditionally married couples to have children using their own embryos, or with either an egg or sperm donor. There must be a medical reason you can’t carry a child. You are also able to participate if you have had 4 unsuccessful IVF attempts.